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The network of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH) and the establishment of the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry in Kautokeino, Norway

The fall of the ‘iron curtain’ and the Brundtland Commission’s report to the UN, Our Common Future, enabled Norwegian Saami reindeer herders to established formal cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Science and with reindeer herders in the Soviet Union. As early as 1990 a delegation with representatives from the Saami Reindeer Herders’ Association of Norway (NRL), the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture, the Norwegian Reindeer Administration and the University of Tromsø visited Even reindeer herders in Topoliniy in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in eastern Siberia. Significantly, this visit was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In September 1993, NRL organized an international Reindeer Peoples’ Festival in Tromsø, in cooperation with the Russian Government and reindeer herders in Russia. Approximately 360 representatives from reindeer pastoralism in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Russian Federation and the United States (Alaska) participated in the Festival. This was the first time in history that such a diverse collection of reindeer peoples were able to meet with each other. This event marked the beginning of a unique cross-border cooperation between the circumpolar reindeer peoples which resulted in the establishment of the Association of World Reindeer Herders.

The 1st World Reindeer Herders’ Congress took place in the city of Nadym, in the Yamal region of Russia in 1997, and was hosted and funded by the Russian government together with the regional authorities in Yamal. Participants included representatives of reindeer husbandry in the Nordic countries and in Russia. The Congress resulted in the establishment of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH). The aim of the association is to promote professional, cultural, social and economic relations between world reindeer peoples, as well as to disseminate information about the reindeer pastoralism.

The establishment of the WRH provided reindeer herders with a forum for contact and cooperation which contributed to placing reindeer pastoralism on to the international agenda. In 1999 the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Knut Vollebæk, took the initiative to add reindeer husbandry to the agenda of international Arctic cooperation. As a direct consequence of this, in 2000 the WRH was granted observer status in the Arctic Council.

The 2nd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress in Anar (Inari), Finland in 2001 was funded by the Finnish government. The Congress adopted the Anar-Declaration, which is the first common statement developed by reindeer herders. The declaration presents guidelines for the development of a sustainable reindeer husbandry for the future.

The 3rd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress took place in the city of Yakutsk, in the Russian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in March 2005. The Congress adopted the Yakutsk Declaration, which emphasizes reindeer husbandry’s participation in the international cooperation in the Arctic. The Congress was hosted and funded by the government of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and was part of a campaign to promote reindeer pastoralism and the indigenous peoples of the Republic.

A great deal has been invested in international cooperation between world reindeer herders over the last 15 years. Representatives of Saami reindeer husbandry, the Norwegian government, Russian reindeer herders, central and regional authorities in Russia, as well as reindeer herders and authorities in Finland have been especially active in promoting this cooperation. Initiatives designed to secure the resulting benefits within reindeer pastoralism are now needed.

The establishment of an International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry in Kautokeino represents one measure to secure the future of this unique cooperation in the North. The Centre enjoys wide professional and political support, both nationally and internationally, and is recommended by, among others, the Arctic Council in the report Sustainable Reindeer Husbandry (2002), and by the 3rd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress in the Yakutsk Declaration of March 2005. It is also recommended by the government-appointed committee of experts in the report published as NOU 2003:32 (Official Norwegian Report) entitled Look North! Challenges and Opportunities in the Northern Areas. The former Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jan Petersen, announced in the 4th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Iceland, November 2004: ”..Norway has decided to establish an international centre for reindeer herders in the Arctic, in Kautokeino, in close co-operation with the World Reindeer Herders. This will be a resource centre for exchange of information between herders in different countries and promoting co-operation between them”. This was followed up by the government in its report no. 30:2005 to the Norwegian Parliament entitled Opportunities and Challenges in the North, which recommended the establishment of an international information centre in close cooperation with WRH. The Norwegian Parliament supported the recommendation by adopting the Proposition to Parliament No. 264 (2005), which announces that the centre “…is important to strengthen the cooperation between northern indigenous communities and other industries”.

The Norwegian government has followed up this proposal and the Centre is now organized under the Norwegian Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion. The Centre is an independent professional unit, with its own board and budget. Its activity is funded by the Norwegian government through annual grants from the budgets of the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Centre is to be a knowledge base for providing and exchanging information and documentation between different reindeer peoples, national authorities and research- and academic communities at the national and international levels. The Centre will thus contribute to adding value, to improving information and to enhancing understanding for world reindeer husbandry and reindeer peoples, their traditional knowledge and their future development.

The board of ICR:

Chairman of the board: Johan Mathis Turi, General Secretary WRH
Board member: Vladimir Etylen, Chukotka, Russia, Vice President of the Russian Reindeer Herders’ Union
Board member: Berit Marie Jonsson, Sweden, Saami Council Sweden
Board member: Monica Sundset, Assoc. professor, University of Tromsø
Board member Mai Britt Utsi, Principal of the Saami University College.
Board member/ deputy: Inger Anita Smuk, Norway, Saami Reindeer Herders’ Association of Norway
Board member/ deputy: Per Gustav Idivuoma, Sweden, Chair of National Union of Saami People
Board member/ deputy: Juha Magga, Finland, Chairman of Suoma Boazosamit (Saami Reindeer Herders’ Association, Finland)